The fight for Basra is about oil and power

March 31st, 2008 - 9:17 am ICT by admin  

By Anne-Beatrice Clasmann
Cairo, March 31 (DPA) US forces in Iraq are in danger of being drawn deeper into the power struggle between the country’s Shia factions. During the most recent clashes between Iraqi troops and the militia of Shia preacher Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army, the US army may not have been in the teeth of the fighting, but does take action in case of emergencies, when Iraqi troops risk defeat.

Yet over the past months the US military command stressed it was “respecting the ceasefire announced by Moqtada al-Sadr”. The fact that US troops are fighting the Mahdi Army despite those assurances pose great risks, independent analysts say.

The rivalries between the Shia government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the Mahdi Army are not just about differing ideologies or handing out lucrative posts in state and administration.

First and foremost, they are about dividing the legal and illegal profits stemming from the oil business in the southern city of Basra.

If reports from Basra are to be believed, more or less all Shia parties are involved in illicit oil dealing. Information is passed on only in secret, because of fears of the militias’ vengeance.

“When an oil delivery leaves Basra, the (Iraq’s governing) Dawa and SICI parties divert about a third of the oil, secretly sell it and pocket the profit,” a Basra man close to the Sadrists said.

“All of that has nothing to do with politics. The structures are more like the Italian Mafia,” he said.

The Sadrists and the members of the Shia Fadhila party, whose members are very well connected around Basra, are now accused of oil smuggling by al-Maliki’s Dawa party and his main coalition partner, the Supreme Islamic Council in Iraq (SICI).

“After Prime Minister al-Maliki accused the Sadr movement of being involved in oil smuggling, members of Iraq’s anti-corruption authority contacted us,” said MP Asmaa al-Mussawi.

“They informed us that the names on their list did not include a single representative of the Sadrists, but instead the names of several high-ranking government members who are involved in oil rackets.”

The Shia politician is a member of the Sadr movement. She was elected into parliament in 2005 as a candidate of the Shia alliance.

Back then, all Shia parties cooperated. Now the Sadrists, whose six ministers walked out of the government almost one year ago, are demanding al-Maliki’s resignation.

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